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Why Credibility is Crucial in a Crisis

This information is for historic and reference purposes only.  Content has not been updated since the last reviewed date at the bottom of this page.
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Credibility counts. In a crisis, people rely on responders to share the information they need to protect themselves and their communities; and information that comes from a public official will be judged based on whether it is trustworthy. People are more likely to follow the public health advice of organizations—and communicators—they trust.  

Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) guidance offers basic principles to help crisis communicators maintain credibility. Organizations that are first, right, empathetic, respectful, and action-oriented may demonstrate their commitment to addressing community needs, but the information they release should also be honest and truthful. Of course, this can be a challenge in a crisis when communicators don’t have all the answers.

The current spread of Zika virus (Zika) continues to complicate communication. Too much information is currently unnecessary in areas that don’t have locally transmitted, mosquito-borne Zika, and may inspire needless anxiety. However, states that are closer in proximity to areas affected by local transmission—including Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean—may want more information, and could become frustrated with an organization that doesn’t supply reliable updates. Because Zika can spread locally through sexual transmission from men who have recently traveled to areas with Zika, confusion may arise if consistent clarification and dependable updates aren’t available. While experts continue to learn more about the virus, CDC communicators concentrate on sharing new information that is accessible, understandable, and straightforward.

Organizations with well-established credibility can maintain open lines of communication with their audiences. They can listen to the public and respond to questions and concerns. They can steadily correct misinformation, develop new messages, and reassure the public that the agency is working hard to respond to people’s needs. Once lost, credibility is difficult to regain. CERC principles can help organizations conserve their credibility to effectively communicate key information that can affect behavior change and positive public health outcomes.

For more resources and information on CERC, please see Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication, 2014 Edition or Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Pandemic Influenza, 2007.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail cercrequest@cdc.gov. Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

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